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Congratulations, Class of 2020! Jefferson seniors have emotional graduation parade

By Staff | May 22, 2020

Jefferson High School graduate Antionne Lewis, of Shepherdstown, smiles from the sunroof of his car, during Sunday's parade. David Pennock

SHENANDOAH JUNCTION — On what would have been the date of their traditional graduation ceremony, Jefferson High School seniors gathered for a nontraditional event instead. COVID-19 restrictions and cancellations made it impossible for the Class of 2020 to hold their graduation ceremony at Shepherd University as planned; however, the students gathered for a vehicular parade to celebrate their big day.

Lining the roadway were signs – one for each senior in the Class of 2020.

The seniors lined up and drove through as their teachers, family members and friends gathered along the path to cheer them on.

Seniors, donning caps and gowns, could be seen in the backs of pickup trucks, standing through sunroof openings and through vehicle windows. Emotions ranged from laughter to tears, both of joy and disappointment that they had lost so much of their senior year, including the scheduled ceremony.

“One minute we were blowing horns, ringing cowbells, yelling congratulations and laughing and the next minute you’d spot someone special in the crowd and there were instant tears, air hugs and blowing kisses,” said Michelle Palmer, whose twin daughters Ashley and Faith graduated this year.

A Jefferson senior shows all smiles amid waving balloons and crowds gathered to cheer on the school's Class of 2020 during Sunday's Senior Graduation Parade. Toni Milbourne

The students and their families made the most of the day, taking time to see teachers last seen in mid-March and friends from whom they have had to social distance.

“I was surprised how emotional the experience was,” said Stephanie Wells, whose daughter Chelsea was among the graduates. “The cheers from the teachers and hollering my daughter’s name — I was a crying mess.”

Jefferson staffer Melody Johnson, who was excited to see the students as they were to see staff and friends, said the event was wonderful.

“They [students] enjoyed just being themselves and being able to laugh and enjoy their moment,” Johnson said. “The 2020 seniors loved it!”

While the students enjoyed their parade on a beautiful spring day, they are looking forward to a traditional graduation ceremony in the fall as restrictions on gatherings continue to lift. The students in Jefferson County, both at Washington High, who also held a senior parade, and Jefferson have voiced a consensus that they want that traditional ceremony. Graduation is a culmination of years of work and while symbolic, that ceremony is the end of the journey the students have worked for all along.

A vehicle full of Jefferson High School graduates drives down the parade route on Sunday. David Pennock

No date has been selected for the ceremony and some students may choose not to participate. Some may have already moved on to the next phase of their lives, including students who have committed to military service. For those students, Sunday’s senior parade was their last hurrah and one that was incredibly special.

Nancy Griffith, whose grandson Joe Connor will leave for his military service soon, summed it up by saying, “I’m so incredibly proud, and this was the best graduation ceremony I have ever gone to.”

A couple of Jefferson High School graduating seniors wave to their teachers, as they drive down the parade route on Sunday. David Pennock

A Jefferson High School graduate calls out to her fellow graduates, teachers and family members with a megaphone, during the parade on Sunday. David Pennock